Air travel in the modern age

I would consider myself very fortunate and privileged to have a job that has enabled me to travel a lot. I love travelling. I love exploring a new city or country, meeting the people, sampling their food and culture and making new friends along the way. But I am starting to grow tired of the hassle of air travel.

It starts off with an element of excitement. Myself and Herself are packing our bags, trying to figure out what clothes to bring. If the destination involved somewhere in Northern Europe during Summer, that task can be easier said than done. For a start, you try to balance the shorts vs trousers ratio because you never can tell if it’ll be warm and sunny, or raining cats and dogs. And inevitably it will result in me finishing my packing first, going downstairs to make a cup of coffee and returning an hour later to scrutinize and challenge everything that Herself deemed necessary to bring with her. I have to admit though that over the years she has become much better at packing only stuff she will wear. Gone are the days of multiple pairs of high heels being packed “just in case”. I never did figure out “just in case” what?

But the excitement quickly vanishes into the ether to be replaced with an air of foreboding. Your mind begins to fret over a dozen things, all at once. Will I make it to the airport on-time, will there be a huge fecking queue for check-in, will the flight depart on time, how big will the queue at security be this time? But fear not, as I have figured out various ways to avoid a lot of the above issues in order to expedite, eliminate and evade as many hassles “landside” as possible.

The first weapon in my arsenal is the suitcase itself. If I can get away with it, I will travel with hand-baggage only. This tactic is a double win, because I not only get to avoid having to check the bag in in the first place, but I also get to avoid having to wait for ages until is reappears on the baggage belt at the other end! A real time saver. I even had herself buy me an electric razor so I could avoid having to check my bags in just because I had to pack shaving foam.

If you factor in the latest statistics from the AEA (Association of European Airlines), which documents that in 2009 the industry average was 13 lost bags for every 1000 passengers, you can see why I would hesitate putting my bag in the belly of a plane. “Thirteen lost bags is not a lot” I hear you say. Ah!!, but if you factor in travellers like myself who fly with NO bags in the belly of the plane they’re flying in, you can quickly see that the statistics are flawed, because they base it upon EVERY passenger that flew, regardless if they checked in luggage or not. So the chance of you and your bag reuniting at your destination is still somewhat dubious.

The next challenging bit, and probably the one that get up EVERYONE’S arse when travelling by air are the dreaded security checks. I have tools to alleviate the stress involved here too. There are only two companies in the Netherlands that I actually like and whom I think are both innovative and worthy of any praise. KLM is one of them. The second one is Privium.

Privium is my secret weapon when dealing with airport security at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport. Amsterdam is my base, and so all my flights usually begin there. What does Privium do to warrant such lofty praise? Well, they scan the biometric markers from my iris, stick them onto a chip that sits on top of a credit card sized membership card which when swiped into a machine at the airport, lets me scan my eyes and whizz through passport and security in a matter of mere seconds. They have their own dedicated security screening too, which means I get to avoid all the geriatrics and infrequent flyers who inevitably always hold up the line at security due to them fiddling in their pockets looking for loose change, or removing their belts and mobiles and God knows what else they carry about their person.

It sounds elitist, and to some extent it is, but I would rather be in a queue of like minded seasoned business travellers who can have all their junk packed away in seconds and zip through security without setting anything off, than to be stuck behind a mother of three who is struggling to pass through security with her push-chairs and offspring.

When travelling on the return leg home, I adopt another tactic. I first look for Asian businessmen. They are usually always extremely quick and efficient going through security, which means you’ll get through the line quite quickly too. If I cannot find the Asian businessmen, it then becomes an exercise in risk mitigation….I start looking for old people, families with kids, young couples and anyone who looks Islamic, and then I avoid them, switching lines if I have to. Again, this all might sound elitist, and to some extent even racist, but it’s a fact that they will slow you down.

One thing I have noticed is how different countries have very different opinions on what constitutes good overall security. In some cases it’s refreshing, in others it’s alarming, and when I’m tired and just want to get home, just downright annoying. For example, at Schiphol, they are quite thorough, but not overly in your face, unlike the U.S.! If you set off the metal detector, they will give you a very thorough pat-down check followed by the waving of their magic wand. However, there are inconsistencies across Europe. Whilst travelling back from Italy, for example, I managed to set-off the metal detector. When the guy came over to frisk me, his touch was so light that if I was smuggling anything he would have most likely never come across it. But then I was thinking, maybe they took one look at me and guessed right that I am not a terrorist and thus no real threat, so they would spare me the hassle and go through the pat-down protocol? But when I went to pick up my bags off the x-ray machine, they were not even looking at the screen, rather they were talking about last nights football match with the folks on the machine next to them!

So I’ve made it through to “airside”, now it’s time to avoid all the low-frills numpties who are splashing out wads of money on booze and fags in Duty Free. I will usually head off to the sanctity of the airline lounge, or, if I’m flying from Schiphol, head straight to the gate because I will have used that precious time that Privium spared me on the way in as extra valuable minutes in bed with Herself before having to leave to the airport.

Suitably refreshed and relaxed from the lounge, I will make my way to the gate. Here I am forced to mix with the throng of holiday makers and fellow business travellers. There is usually a few kids ranging from between toddler age to around 9 or 10 years old running around screaming their heads off. This will either result in a parent scolding them (if they are Irish, British, French, Asian or Canadian) or nothing (if they are Dutch, German, Russian, American, Italian).

The boarding call will come, asking all Business Class and certain members of the airlines frequent flyer program to step forward. But which results in EVERYONE trying to board at the same time too! Some airlines are quite strict on this, forcing the queue jumpers back until they are called to board, other airlines don’t give a crap, just so long as everyone is there and that nobody is sat inebriated at the airport bar, having completely lost track of time and no clue where their gate is, thus resulting in the ground staff having to retrieve and remove their baggage and bumping them from my flight.

I’ve made it….my favourite window seat up near the front with ample legroom and a glass of bubbly resting on the armrest beside me. Yes, I fly “Cattle Class” too, and I also have my favourite seats there too, but given a choice, I would be happier sipping champagne in the front than dealing with some fat American down the back.

Amazingly, there are copious rules and regulations here in the EU that cover the safe and humane transportation of animals, yet not a single law or white paper outlining the same for humans. For example, a cow, when being transported to the slaughter-house, should have enough food and water for the trip, should have adequate rest periods if the journey time is longer than several hours, and it should have enough space in the truck so as to facilitate it to turn its head around in order to groom itself! What do we get in “Cattle Class” on the airlines? Barely enough room to scratch my arse and if you’re lucky, a crappy sandwich and a cup of coffee that tastes like it’s been filtered through the fat Americans underpants!

On board, I usually turn on the iPod and try to zone out on what’s going on around me. But there is one noise that is able to penetrate all forms of music that I have on my iPod…that is the dreaded screams of a child who has not yet figured out how to equalise the pressure in their sinuses. I do feel sorry for the parents, really I do. But I have avowed to come up with a solution to this. I had originally thought about creating my own airline, which would firstly enforce an aptitude test for all passengers, ensuring that no morons or numpties were allowed to travel (thus eliminating the detritus of society from the entire check/security process altogether) and secondly, banning all children under the age of 5 from flying. When I put this idea across to my Dad one Christmas, he came up with a clever alternative. Whilst he agreed with the riff-raff idea, he suggested that I build a sound proof section at the back where all the families with screaming kids could sit together and make as much noise as they wanted, without disturbing the rest of my passengers. This way I would maximise revenue, maybe even charging a premium for seats in the baby-free cabin.

Well, I need to go check-in online for my next flight. Anyone for tea or coffee??

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